Growing up, I was one of the few Jewish kids at my school. Everyone knew that I was the girl with the super long, confusing last name who got to miss school in September for some random holidays. The majority of my friends didn’t understand when I’d explain to them the importance of those seemingly random holidays, and why I had services every Friday at my camp. Then when I had my Bat Mitzvah in eighth grade, seeing their looks of confusion as I chanted my Torah portion was one of the highlights of that day if I’m being honest.
The one community where I knew I wouldn’t be seen as an outsider for my religion was my camp, Camp Chi. Everyone there was Jewish and understood the importance behind our traditions. They made me feel accepted and proud of my Jewish heritage rather than ashamed for being the odd one out at my school. I continued to go to this camp every summer for what ended up being eight, going on nine years, and the connection to the people and the community created within this camp grew bigger and bigger each year. Last summer while I was there, I got the opportunity to be a counselor in training, which gave me the ability to connect with younger campers and show them the importance of both our Jewish heritage and the connections you make at camp. This experience is something I will forever be grateful for, not just because I got to spend another summer at my favorite place, but because I was able to impact a group of people and teach them the importance of tuning into their “Jewish side”.
When I heard about Peer Ambassadors and their mission of connecting with Jewish teens to help them grow their Jewish identity, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to continue impacting the Jewish community in almost the same way I was at camp. Becoming in tune with my own Jewish identity has helped me become the person I am today, and to think that I can help someone else have a similar experience makes me so beyond happy and proud to be a Jewish individual. If you were to tell my elementary school self that I would become a Peer Ambassador and be as proud as I am to be a part of the Jewish community, she’d probably walk away from you in disbelief. Never would I’ve thought that I’d grow my connection to Judaism into what it is today, let alone get to a point where I can’t imagine my life without it, and I can’t wait to keep growing it as a member of Springboard Peer Ambassadors!
About the Author: Tess is a rising Junior at Lane Tech High School, where she actively participates in many clubs, including JSC. She loves to write, listen to music, and hang out with her friends. Since Tess has been attending her overnight camp, Camp Chi, for practically half of her life, she's been able to grow her Jewish identity through practicing Jewish values and learning about Jewish culture.